I recently attended a parenting talk at the children’s school on the topic of “Being the Parent You Always Wanted To Be.” It was quite enlightening and certainly gave us parents a lot to talk about the following week. The presenter, Lynn, suggested that we tend to think of ourselves as parents using a series of mental “pictures” of how we expect family life to be. We have perfect pictures of ourselves as capable parents who can handle everything; the always patient, loving, cooking, sewing, do-it-yourself parent who also manages a fabulous career. In our mental pictures, our children are well behaved little angels and everyone in the family is perfectly happy, all the time. And when our world doesn’t match those perfect mental pictures, we feel like failures as parents, beating ourselves up for our imperfections. It’s a lot of pressure to put on ourselves.

Lynn suggested we toss those pictures aside and try to focus on 3 things that are most important to us as parents. That at the end of the day, all that really matters is x, y and z. After a group brainstorm, we all agreed, more or less, on two things; 1) it’s really important to have good, honest communication with our children and 2) it’s really important to have fun together. The third one varied from person to person but truly had nothing to do with keeping a perfect house or making lots of money. One parent admitted that their child had decided that they didn’t want to have children of their own because it seemed like it was too much work! Another parent told us that her child asked why she’s always so serious and doesn’t smile. It made all of us reflect on our own behaviours and what our children might think of us.

Lynn’s message was very simple. If what we’re doing is not contributing to those three things we feel are most important to being a good parent, then they are really not our priorities. This realization was so liberating! Of course we have to hold jobs to provide for our family and we must take time to manage the household affairs. However, a few extra dandelions in the front garden is not the end of the world.

Many of us went home with changed mental pictures of what we thought being a good parent was. This week, I let the laundry go unfolded for an extra day and instead I played “shoots and ladders”. One evening, instead of spending hours in the kitchen preparing a well balanced dinner, I ordered in and watched the hockey game on TV with the kids. Guess what? The laundry was still waiting there for me the next day, my family didn’t go hungry and I had fun enjoying time with my family. What are your three pictures of perfect parenting?